In college, I had the fortune of becoming a resident assistant—a job with free room and board requiring little actual work (or maybe I was just lazy).
A year later, I had the even better fortune of getting to interview new RAs. Each summer, we’d put a call out for applications, and hundreds would flood in. From 200+ applications, 15 or so would get a job.
If you’ve never been a part of the hiring process before, you might think a panel of interviewers would pore over resumes looking for qualifications or dig into an applicants past to see if they had relevant experience that would make them the best fit for the job.
Sure, we did all that, but it almost never secured a job for anyone. When I look back now, though, I see just how little attention was paid to qualifications and experience. They weren’t ignored, but they weren’t what made a hiring decision.
Can you guess what was?
- Being passed over for jobs you’re qualified for…
- Trying to skyrocket your career and need to know what it really takes to ace an interview or impress a client…
- Tired of reading 50 point lists of random things to do in your interview you’ll never remember…
You need to know this.
Secret Signals That Get You A Dream Job
Sitting on a panel of interviewers was eye-opening. I saw highly qualified candidates dig themselves into holes they’d never dig out of and people who seemed like dunces on paper talk themselves into one of the most coveted jobs on campus.
If it wasn’t experience and qualifications that gave an edge in these interviews, what was it?
It was social intelligence and body language—the automatic, unconscious behaviors applicants expressed during interviews—that quietly sent a signal to the interviewers about their fitness for the job. They’d either tell us, “I’m confident, capable, easygoing, and you want to hire me,” or “I’m unsure of myself, and I’m just hoping you’ll give me a chance.”
Which do you think led to a job offer?
If you’re not paying attention to your body language during an interview, you could be quietly signaling your insecurities and losing great opportunities. Humans are incredibly perceptive, you know. You can probably remember a time someone was telling you something, and their body language was telling you not to believe it.
If you Google “interview tips,” you’ll be overrun with thousands of random, useless pointers that make little difference, confuse, contradict each other, and even lower your chances of success because you freak out trying to remember them all when you should be chatting confidently with the person across from you.
So, I’ve created a short list of things to do before, during, and after your interview to improve your odds of success regardless your qualifications. They’re going to make you appear more confident, intelligent, and qualified.
Best of all, they’re easy to remember and use.
What To Do Before Your Interview
The most important thing I learned from being part of the hiring process? A great interview starts before you show up. This is what you need to do before you enter your interview to build a strong mindset for the process ahead.
1. Dress at the same level as the interviewer.
Most career writers tell you to dress at the level of the job you’re applying for. That’s wrong. Or, they say to wear a nice suit to any interview regardless where you’re applying. That’s totally wrong.
Here’s what to do: Research your interviewer, what kind of clothes the company or client culture dictates, and then dress to match it.
This is the best strategy because it builds instant rapport with the person who’s in charge of hiring you. We’re hard-wired to connect with people who look like us—it’s science—and dress is a big part of that. When someone would show up in a suit for an interview with us, we were immediately put off because we dressed casually. And it was for good reason. Dressing casually helped us do our jobs better; students who needed to trust us were suspicious of fancy clothes.
2. Wait at a nearby cafe until 10 minutes before your interview.
You already know not to show up late to an interview… I hope. But conventional advice says to show up extra early to avoid any chance of being late. That’s partly right.
Definitely show up early, but not at the place you’re being interviewed. Seeming over eager can lower your perceived confidence. If you show up 30 minutes early to your interview, no one’s going to know what to do with you, and it’s going to be weird. “Um, I’ll just cower in the corner over there. Do you have any hard candies?”
To give yourself plenty of buffer, pop into a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Then, walk to your interview 10 minutes before it starts.
3. Practice your power pose (no, really).
Prepping for my TEDx talk, I asked my friend and body language expert, Vanessa, what I could do to calm my nerves before taking the stage. She told me to practice my “power pose”—arms on your hips, chest out, head high, shoulder width stance—10 minutes before taking the stage.
Power pose if a funny name, but its calming effects are based in science. When you stand like this, it helps you naturally lower your cortisol levels—the stress-causing hormone.
The result? You talk slower, shake less, and seem more confident. Put yourself in this pose while walking from the coffee shop to give yourself the best shot at making a good first impression.
What To Do During Your Interview
If you follow the steps above, you’re probably going to rock your interview because you’re calm, in a strong mindset, and building instant rapport with your interviewer. That’s the most important part of the interview game.
After mastering that, there are some things you can do with your new high-confidence mindset during the interview to make the best presentation possible. Add these social tools to your strong qualifications, and you’ll be unstoppable.
4. Show your palms often.
Lots of psychological research has shown that keeping an “open posture”—one where your body is exposed to those around you—makes others more comfortable and perceive you as confident. That is, unless you get too open; then it feels domineering. Keep your feet off the desk!
But how do you remember to do that in an interview?
The trick is to remind yourself to show your palms to your interviewer often. It’ll force you out of a closed posture (which makes you seem distant and stressed). Using this one trick, you can forget the 100 other “how should I behave in my interview” tips because you’ll automatically do all of them.
This will also keep your cortisol levels low following your power pose before the interview.
5. Hold your eye contact one second longer than usual.
I remember conducting interviews and asking myself, “Why is this person lying to me?” The reason? They didn’t feel comfortable looking at me (am I that ugly). As we’d speak, they’d look away. Even if I had no other reason to believe someone was lying, I’d question them and their integrity if they seemed uncomfortable as they answered questions.
And I wasn’t the only one. This was a topic of conversation among all the interviewers I worked with. Humans are hardwired to equate shifty, avoiding eyes to lying.
To combat this, remind yourself to count to one before looking away anytime eye contact is made. But don’t be weird about it and hold too long, either!
6. Don’t smile so damn much!
What do you naturally do when you’re nervous and want to impress someone? If you’re like everyone else, you fake a smile as hard as you can, hold it longer than you normally would, and hope they like you.
One problem with this approach: It doesn’t work. Why? Because it’s a subordinate, low-confidence behavior, and we are incredibly good at detecting fake smiles. Many professional studies have confirmed that strong leaders smile less than average because they don’t struggle to impress. If you want to come across as leader material, smile when something is funny and when you’re truly happy. Otherwise, relax!
The Follow Up
This is the easiest part. There are thousands of articles online featuring creative ways to send fun, interesting follow ups and thank you notes for the your interviews. Don’t listen to any of them because they don’t actually work. If you send a funny, handwritten, cutesy thank you card for an interview, you’ll be remembered, but not for the reason you want.
Instead, it’ll be a reminder you’re not super confident in yourself as a candidate. Nice to get, but you’re not getting hired for your thank you note.
You do need to follow up, but in a way that refreshes your interviewer’s mind about you and gives them a good impression. This is easy. Send a very short email—no more than 5 sentences—to your interviewer (you got their card, right?), that does these three things:
- Thanks them briefly (!) for the interview
- Subtly reminds them of your qualifications
- Appeals to a personal connection you made
#3 is most important. If you fail every other aspect of your interview, you might salvage it if you succeed getting your interviewer to see themselves in you. That could be a shared hobby, a common food/music/film preference, or anything else that might make you friends outside of work.
You just want to remind them you have something in common and the two of you are not so different.
Follow these simple steps, and you won’t just be ahead of everyone else out job or client hunting, you’ll be ahead of the top 1% freaking out because they read 100 different “how to not suck at my interview” articles filled with 100s of tips they’ll never remember.